It’s the truth: Wellesley’s ‘The Liar’ is great fun

Angela Bilkic*, Dan Prior, Ariela Nazar-Rosen in “The Liar.” Photo: David Brooks Andrews

WELLESLEY – Centuries before Jim Carrey starred in the 1997 film “Liar, Liar,” about a fast-talking attorney who finds he must speak the truth for the next 24 hours, a French playwright named Pierre Corneille wrote a 1644 farce called “The Liar.”

It is the tale of a man who cannot tell the truth who meets a manservant who cannot lie.

Playwright David Ives (“Venus in Fur”) adapted the piece for a production first performed in 2010 and it is is now bring performed by the Wellesley Repertory Company by a cast that is as witty and clever as Ives and his adaptation.

Ives wrote “The Liar” in rhyming verse, – including a clever prologue delivered by Sam Warton as the manservant Cliton– which makes for some very funny and witty rhymes and some that will have you rolling your eyes.

The comedy is also rife with modern allusions, including some modern dance takes that reminded me of something you might see in the old TV series “Laugh In.”

Director Marta Reiner, who took the stage in place of an ill actress at a recent performance, even gets into the act with clever program notes written in the same rhyming verse.

The Liar” is set in Paris over two days in 1643 and has the characters wandering among such iconic sites as the Tuileries Garden, the Bois du Boulogne, and in and around homes on the Place Royale.

A recent performance was handicapped by the illness of actress Caitlin Graham, which forced Rainer to take the stage, script in hand, as the show must – and did – go on.

Complicating the matter, Rainer was performing the difficult dual roles of a maid named Isabelle and her sister Sabine, with disparate personalities, but even with script in hand she stayed completely in character and the production missed nary a beat.

As noted early on in “The Liar,” the work record of Cliton, the servant for hire, is erratic for a very good reason.. “The same thing fifty times has come to pass: / I tell my boss the truth, he fires my ass!”

He hooks up with Dan Prior as Dorante, a swaggering habitual liar in need of someone who cam tell the truth when it’s absolutely necessary.

Dorante is entranced when he strikes up a conversation with a young woman named Clarice (Areila Nazan-Rosen) as she strolls through the Tuilerioes with a shy friend named Lucrece (Angela Bilkic).

While striving to impress her with fabricated tales of his derring-do, he fails to obtain the lady’s name.

When Cliton asks Isabelle for the names of the two ladies, she gives him both and refers to her mistress only as “the greater beauty.”

That allows for comedic confusion, Dorante’s dangerous entanglement with an enraged suitor named Alcippe (understudy Paul Michael Valley stepping into the role), and Doronte’s continued deceit when it comes to his father Geronte (John Kinsherf). There is the customary strong support from Danny Bolton as Philiste, Alcippe’s friend and advisor who also figures in the romantic entanglements.

Set designer David Towlun’s wooden cut-outs suggest the Tuileries Garden.

The Liar” requires precision comic timing and an ensemble with no weak links, and a recent performance had both, even with Rainer’s script in hand. The Wellesley Repertory Theatre has been in residence at Wellesley College since 1998 and has consistently produced excellent work such as this piece of sublime silliness, which will still have you smiling long after you leave the theater.

The Wellesley Repertory Theatre production of David Ives’ “The Liar.” Adapted from the comedy by Pierre Corneille. Directed by Marta Rainer. At the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre through Feb. 4.